Most people don’t think about the consequences of their actions until after they have done it. Someone decides to start selling weed to make a little extra money and next thing you know you are serving a long prison sentence. These lengthy prison sentences for drug offenses were created to combat the War on Drugs that began in the 1980s. Some drug offenders are convicted under mandatory minimum sentence laws which force a judge to hand down a set number of years if someone is convicted of certain crimes. It doesn’t matter the level of participation in the crime, but only the amount of drugs that he or she was arrested with. So a drug kingpin and a small time street dealer could receive the same amount of time in prison.
This system of sentencing in drug offenses needs to be reformed because hundreds of thousands of lives have been ruined because of one dumb mistake. A judge shouldn’t be forced to hand down a long prison sentence without looking at the circumstances of the case. For most other crimes, a judge will look over the entire case and its circumstances surrounding the case before handing down a sentence. So why can that not be the case for some drug offenses?
Though some critics would say that if someone has a large enough amount of a drug to be convicted under mandatory minimums, that these people should go to prison for a long time. But what people don’t realize is that once you enter the drug trade, it is almost impossible to get out. The drug trade is sometimes called the “trap” because that’s what it is, a trap that you can’t get out of. So yes there are people who deserve to be handed down lengthy prison sentences for some drug offenses; but there is also an astounding number of people who went to prison for a long time who just got caught up in a bad situation. John Oliver, the comedian and host of the television show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, commits a whole episode to discussing the problem with mandatory minimums.
Since the beginning long sentencing for drug offenses due to the War on Drugs, millions of people have been calling for reforming this policy. People beg for reform by filing for appeals in court cases, protesting, and especially by using social media. The tweet below shows how people are appealing to President Obama to change sentencing in drug offenses before he leaves office.
While most of these pleadings for reform were mainly ignored by the criminal justice system, in the past decade there has been some reform for sentencing in drug offenses. One example of reform is the case where Weldon Angelos was sentenced to fifty five years in prison for selling marijuana but was later released after serving twelve years in prison. There has also been a large push for the usage of drug courts instead of prison time. Drug courts are a special court for substance abuse offenders who are sent to a rehabilitation program instead of being sent to prison. While this is a small step in reform for drug sentencing, there is still a long way to go if we are going to fix the horrible problem of unfair drug sentencing. Just remember one stupid mistake could end up costing you years of your life.
In my podcast below I interview others about their thoughts on drug sentencing in our criminal justice system.